Category Archives: Anime Editorials

An Introduction to Korean Dramas (for anime fans)

I’ve been meaning to write this article for a while now and with the popularity of Squid Game, I guess I can’t put it off any longer. When I’m late to finishing an anime for review, it’s often due to a Korean drama (or K-drama), most commonly at 16 1-hour episodes per series (some series will do 32 half-hour episodes). I particularly want to talk about this ever-growing genre for anime fans, as I feel there is crossover appeal. You would be surprised by how many K-dramas are adaptations of manhwa/webtoons or manga.

Before I get into my recommendations on which series you should begin with when diving into the world of kimchi slaps, let’s go over some of the tropes and the prevailing themes. Anime fans of all people should know how weird a genre could be to outsiders in the face of very peculiar tropes. How do you explain nosebleeds to any sane person?

When one says anime, 9 out of 10 out people will think of a shounen action series, whether standard battle anime or an isekai. For K-dramas, the most common genre is the romantic comedy. Now, this isn’t like the vapid Hollywood romantic comedy. A Korean rom-com will often involve a supernatural element. For example, My Love from the Star features a romance between a spoilt celebrity actress and an immortal alien stuck on Earth waiting for the next ride home. Legend of the Blue Sea is a romance about a conman and a mermaid, with a dash of reincarnation thrown in. Ah yes, reincarnation is a strong theme in K-dramas. Just as a shounen protagonist is secretly related to one of the most important people in the world, a K-drama couple will have an air of reincarnation, a whiff of ancient memories, and a past so dramatic that you could spin another series out of it.

Reincarnation brings us neatly to the second most popular genre: the historical drama. Sudden quiz: in which period do most historical anime take place? That’s right, the Edo period. The time of the Nobunaga, Tokugawa, and the bloody samurai wars. For Korea, we have the Joseon period. If you have ever seen a picture of a Korean in historical dress, it is almost certainly from this period. Within this genre, one can find myriad sub-genres. Unlike most Edo series, which are about samurai wars (understandable), Joseon series range from war stories to political dramas to slice of life. Sungkyunkwan Scandal follows a girl who disguises herself as a boy to study with the high class boys. You can see where that story is going. Because of this variety, you can pick a style you prefer – modern, historical, supernatural, etc. – and enjoy a vast library of dramas from different subgenres.

I should note here that the term “drama” often means “Korean drama series” and not a dramatic story. Everything is a “drama.”

If you prefer something more “normal,” there are plenty of contemporary romances and dramas without any supernatural element whatsoever. One can also delve into profession specific series such as detective mysteries, law procedurals, and medical dramas – although, the medical accuracy leaves something to be desired. Regardless of the genre, there is usually a strong romance element. In fact, you don’t even need to specify “romance” in the genre line. Romance is assumed.

Thankfully, romances is K-dramas are a ton of fun. I love them. Call it cheesy, call it old fashioned, doesn’t matter – it’s good fun. Most K-dramas have a wholesome quality to them, which I would wager is their biggest appeal. Mind you, there are plenty as serious and dramatic as you would find anywhere in the world – often in the form of a dynastic historical epic such as the 62-episode The Great Queen Seondeok – but the majority have an aim to please with happy endings and all the fuzzy feelings.

Common tropes you’ll see in romances are the “back hug” – hugging someone from the back in surprise, followed by circular dolly shot in slow motion with repeat cuts – the upgraded back hug in the form of a piggyback, the dramatic kiss (the champion of repeat cuts), and confessing to someone, only to realise they have passed out drunk. That brings me to another point. Where anime is largely for a teenaged audience, K-dramas (and Chinese, Japanese, etc.) are for adults. Instead of a high school romance, it’s in university. Instead of a part-time job anime, it’s an office setting. As such, and due to the prevalence of it in Korean culture, there is a fair bit of drinking alcohol. However, unless its drama drama, they keep it light-hearted and for comedic effect.

Two tropes very much in common with anime are the childhood friend and the love triangle. K-dramas throw an extra twist into the mix by usually making the childhood friend a secret. One party will not realise that this person they see every day is from their past. Sometimes it is even the core of the premise, as seen in She Was Pretty, where a rich and cute kid grows up into a poor and “ugly” woman, while her fat friend grew into a successful and handsome man. He doesn’t recognise her, fooled by the pretty substitute sent in her place.

The childhood friend tends to be in the non-supernatural romances with a love triangle (equally likely to be two guys after one woman or two women after one guy). The supernatural romance, on the other hand, will have two opposites interested in the same person (usually two guys after one woman here), one good and one evil – or rather, one anti-hero with an eventual good heart inside because everyone loves a bad boy. If the supernatural guy is meant to be isolated (exile, for example) then the other guy will be an ordinary human for contrast yet not stand a chance in this relationship. Don’t be surprised if the supernatural guy starts the story by wanting to kill the woman either. Of course, he will save her in an impossible manner later.

I want pause here to touch on one of the recurring negatives in K-dramas. There are negatives, like every medium, more of which I’ll get to later. For now, I refer to the stoic love interest. I don’t know why, but some drama writers equate having no personality to being cool. Far too often for my liking, the male love interest will be as bland as a grey concrete wall with nothing to attract someone apart from his looks (of course, he’s too cool for his looks as well). Meanwhile, the female protagonist will be an excellent character full of life and personality. They’re trying to go for “opposites attract” but the opposite of lively isn’t boring. My Love from the Star, a favourite of mine, sadly has this one weakness.

Friends or enemies to lovers is a common romantic scenario, one that I particularly enjoy. Rich meets poor is common too, often with the poor character on a scholarship to attend the same institute as the rich love interest, or the poor one works for the rich one’s company. For some reason, the poor person will often have a rooftop flat. Class divide and wealth inequality between the “chaebols” (families that run the largest conglomerates in Korea) and everyone else is a prevalent theme.

With rich families come strict parents. Rarely does one see a K-drama without a strict parent or two. The richer the love interest, the stricter and nastier the parent. And boy can they get nasty! It’s usually the mother because she makes for a more entertaining character. She will get catty, gossip about their child’s love interest, throw in a bitch slap or two, and outright break the law to no consequence (see chaebols). They have some great actresses to play these villainous mothers. Like Umbridge, you loathe them yet wouldn’t have it any other way. When it’s the father, he’s strict in the business sense, which isn’t as fun.

For the not so fun, let’s talk about common negatives of K-dramas. To me, the drawn out middle acts are the reason most likely to make me drop a show. In your standard story, act one has all the setup, the excitement of characters meets, stakes establishing, threads beginning, and so on. This takes about 25% of the run time or 4 out of 16 episodes. The third act – episodes 13 to 16 – have all the pay offs and a heightened pace as everything comes to a head. Those middle eight episodes, however, and at an hour each, are where a series is likely to lose me. In the boring series, I always get the feeling that the series has 16 episodes because that’s what the TV station mandates, not because the story is that long, and so they have to drag it out in the middle. For a rom-com, this means the couple almost getting together but then not by the end of each episode, interfered in increasingly convoluted ways.

On the flip side, one positive about K-dramas is the lack of sequels and endlessly running stories. You can start something and know that in a few months you will have the ending. No decade-long commitment needed. When you do see two seasons, they’re usually half-length each.

Also, when it is a good series, you power through so easily because K-dramas are master classes in end of episode cliffhangers. No matter the genre, when done well, you simply have to watch the next episode. Eight episodes later before you even realise it.

In the same vein as the wheel spinning of the middle act, writers use amnesia as a plot device to interrupt story progress all too often. Furthermore, the amnesia can occur from the slightest bump on the head and isn’t consistent at all. You know it’s going to magically get better in X number of episodes (X = how many episodes they need to stall) and proceedings will pick up from just before the amnesia. Rarely do they do this device well. These days, I tend to skip through until the amnesia is forgotten.

If the third act has an amnesia equivalent, it is the final episode tragedy. Maybe the love interest has to live overseas out of nowhere; perhaps someone dies; or maybe the villain rises from the dead one last time after the case is solved. Regardless, something will occur in the final episode with little to no setup for a bit of extra drama, only to resolve in the same episode before a happy ending. Honestly, you could cut this final incident out and you wouldn’t notice it was missing, narratively.

Then we have the product placement. No product is more synonymous with K-dramas than Subway – yes, the sandwich place. Rich or poor, everyone in Korea eats at Subway, or so K-dramas would have you believe. Romantic date? You bet Subway is an option. It’s a meme at this point. Humidifiers. Oh my god, the humidifiers. Whenever someone is hospitalised (naturally, they don’t look at all ill, for it wouldn’t look attractive), expect to find a humidifier on the bedside table. There is a fair bit of this in contemporary series and sometimes the product placement is particularly clunky. The worst case I can recall is The King: Eternal Monarch, where said king in a parallel Korea would pull out this LED therapy mask at the start of a scene, do nothing with it, and then put it away. Almost every episode. That series was atrocious with the sheer number of products front and centre in the camera.

Lastly, I have to mention a negative pet peeve of mine. I should warn you, this is really petty. I can’t stand the way they bite their spoons when eating rice. That clack of teeth on metal is worse than nails on a chalkboard. Add to that the tendency to talk with a mouth full of food. Makes me recoil every time. Eating a meal together is a favourite Korean past time and moment of bonding, so as you can imagine, biting spoons happens a lot.

Right, enough of my pettiness. I have briefly introduced the world of K-dramas. Time for some recommendations to get you started. You can likely find these on some streaming service or other depending on your location.

The perfect introduction for anime fans: W – Two Worlds

A woman finds herself inside her father’s famous webtoon, where she saves the protagonist’s life and changes the course of the story.

W was one of my first K-dramas and the first I binged. Featuring an intriguing plot, a fast pace, good characters, and a story you’d find in anime, this is easily my go-to recommendation for newcomers. The mechanics of the webtoon world are brilliant and make for such an interesting series. The villain too, which I won’t spoil, is a fantastic and creative threat.

For fans of the “sudden girlfriend appearance” romance: Legend of the Blue Sea

A wealthy conman stumbles upon a real mermaid, not that he suspects her of being anything more than a lost weirdo. This fun rom-com features my favourite lead actress, Jun Ji-hyun (also featured in My Love from the Star). The fish out of water humour from her is pure joy to me. Legend of the Blue Sea has many of the tropes I mentioned, such as reincarnation, seen in full effect here. Also starring is Lee Min-ho, the highest paid actor in K-dramas (not sure if still the case). He’s had mixed receptions from me. I first saw him in Boys Over Flowers (based on the shoujo manga of the same name) and his performance was atrocious, though the series in general sucked. Much better in Legend of the Blue Sea.

For the better live action adaptation: Naeil’s Cantabile

A musical perfectionist of prodigious talent comes face to face with an anarchist of music, a woman of talent, sure, but no sense of structure, following the rules, or doing anything according to how music meant to be played! Where were we?

Sound familiar? This is the Korean live action adaptation of the manga Nodame Cantabile, which made for an anime I love starring one of the best anime couples of all time. Naeil’s Cantabile is how you should adapt manga to live action. It doesn’t try to be a manga or anime in real life. That never works, as demonstrated perfectly by the inferior Japanese live action adaptation of this same manga. Naeil’s Cantabile changes details to fit Korean culture and real life, yet maintains that same dynamic between the characters and that same fun tone. This is better than any scene-for-scene adaptation could hope to achieve.

For a true opposites attract series: Crash Landing on You

A workaholic woman and CEO of a large company gets carried away by the wind while paragliding and crash lands over the border in North Korea, where a high ranking officer finds her. Hiding out in his village, all manner of culture shock and comedy hijinks occur in this rom-com. I would say this has the best K-drama couple, in all likelihood.

The scenario sounds crazy, but they execute it well and there is a serious edge to it regarding the North and South conflict. Love Crash Landing on You!

For fans of Kaiji: Squid Game

A gambling addict enters a contest of life or death with hundreds of other addicts to win the money need to pay off his debts. While not as good as Kaiji, the currently popular Squid Game is an easy recommendation if you want something on the more brutal side. Feel good this isn’t.

For slice of life fans: Hyori’s Bed & Breakfast

Now, I’m cheating a little here since this isn’t a K-drama. Hyori’s Bed & Breakfast (a.k.a. Hyori’s Homestay) is about Hyori, a real celebrity, and her husband who invite strangers from the public to stay with them at their home on Jeju Island, a paradise holiday destination for Koreans and foreigners alike. They don’t know who will visit – the producers screen applications – but they need to be ordinary people with a bit of conversation to share. This couple just wants to meet people. This isn’t a minor celebrity either. Hyori is a massive star of screen and music. Not only that, but they “hire” an assistant to help with the guests and that assistant will be another celebrity you could never imagine doing housework. Hyori’s Bed & Breakfast is the slice of life show that all slice of life shows strive to be, whether real or fictional.

Now, you’re probably imagining something trashy like Big Brother or Real Housewives. This is the polar opposite. For as trashy as those shows are, Hyori’s Bed & Breakfast is wholesome, honest, and kind hearted.

My favourite aspect is the pets. The cats and dogs are so adorable – eight of them! The best of them all is Mimi, who lives on the dining table. She will sit there and stare at you eating all day if needed.

If you ever need to watch something to feel better, Hyori’s Bed & Breakfast is the ultimate pick-me-up.

There are plenty more great series to watch but these are a good place to start. Enjoy!

(Don’t tell anyone but this article was late because I was watching Squid Game.)

A Return to Azeroth and MMO Anime

With the impending release of World of Warcraft Classic taking us back 14 years, I thought it would be a fitting time to clear my backlog of all MMO related anime. MMO anime, which often fall under the “isekai” category meaning “other world”, are supremely popular in the anime sphere. There’s a reason every season can afford more isekai slop to serve the masses. The current Summer 2019 season has six – yes, six – isekai shows!

I love the idea of the genre more than the results we’ve seen so far.

Over the next few weeks, I’ll be doing reviews on a mix of bad and [hopefully] good MMO isekai as a way of clearing the backlog and getting in the spirit of Classic WoW. There are so many titles in this genre that I could never get to all of them, nor would I want to with how copy & paste most of them are. As such, I’m going off personal interests, general community feedback, and reader requests to create a shortlist.

The titles are as follows (release order undecided):

Yes, I know some of these will be awful. In fact, I’m counting on it. Let’s just hope there is something worthwhile as well in the mix.

Once Classic does release, I’ll also be using the time to power through other genres’ titles in the backlog on a second screen. My hope is to clear several smaller shows (you guys have sent in many requests for me to review) and at least one of the big ones – fingers crossed to have Naruto Shippuden done in a few weeks’ time.

Readers often ask me how I can watch so many shows (not just anime) and write the reviews as a hobby (doing these reviews isn’t in the top five on my daily priority list). Well, that’s my secret – multi-tasking. It takes time to get used to just about looking at two things at the same time, but it’s easy once you have the hang of it. (You can even play a game, watch an anime in Japanese, and listen to a podcast in English all at once with practice.) The difficulty does vary on the anime and game. It’s tough to play a fast-paced competitive game and watch a show at the same time, of course, but when playing something slower paced – like an MMO or strategy game – it’s a breeze. Mileage also varies on the show of choice. A sit-com or shounen anime? Easy. Something heady like Monster, Legend of the Galactic Heroes or Star Trek? One risks missing the details and nuance. If I ever feel like I’m missing anything, I’ll either focus on the show only or put on something else.

I also like to multi-task any favourite rewatches since just listening to the audio conjures up the visuals like an invisible layer before my eyes. I’m sure everyone has a film or series they can “see” just by hearing the dialogue.

I’ve been multi-tasking entertainment for over a decade now and Classic will make for a good binge session. And it brings me a few steps closer to the colossal One Piece. (One day, my friend, one day…)

One Piece and the Curse of the Backlog

Naruto, Bleach, One Piece – the trinity, the hotness at one time. It started with Naruto for me and Bleach came not long after. I was in the door early for both, keeping me hooked on a weekly basis. I didn’t need more, so I never tried One Piece. I’m sure that if any of my friends were interested in it, I would have started it to keep up with weekly conversation as I had with the other two.

Years passed, Naruto and Bleach descending into the filler nightmares (Bleach turned to garbage as well, but that wasn’t enough to stop me watching yet). I needed my shounen fix. Twelve years ago, I tried One Piece for the first time. I had heard good things. “If you like Naruto, you’ll like One Piece, for sure.”

Episodes aired: ~250

Five episodes and I couldn’t go any further. The art was just too ugly. I particularly hated the hyper-stretched mouths and expressions. The immature protagonist, the try-hard guy with a sword in his teeth, the screech acting – I couldn’t do it. I was already sick of Naruto’s – the character’s – immaturity. I couldn’t take another such protagonist for hundreds of episodes. Luffy didn’t have the legacy status in my mind to make me look past his issues.

I dropped One Piece.

Leap forward five years. I was talking with a friend about our early anime days and the topic of shounen series came up. I had long since moved past such drawn out, poorly paced stories. When One Piece came up and I told him of how I hadn’t managed to stomach it, he said how he had felt the same, but pushed through and come to love it. He re-recommended it to me with conviction. So I looked it up again.

Episodes aired: ~500

Well, I could get through that eventually, I supposed. And I was willing to try it again. I was just going to get through a bunch of smaller series first, get them out of the way before I sink into the behemoth.

That bunch turned into a field of smaller series, which, coupled with my on-and-off interest in anime, delayed the trial more and more. But I was going to try it. I made certain of that.

We leap another few years forward and my passion for anime has reignited to the point where a desire to write anime reviews for my own enjoyment has started to burn. The idea swims around in my head for a while longer, until I decide to go for it.

Okay, now it’s serious. I couldn’t review anime and not review One Piece. Writing a review would be motivation to watch because now, even if I didn’t like it, I could write about what I thought of this ever-growing monster.

Episodes aired: ~700

Not a problem – I would review a few dozen 13 or 26-episode anime first, likely ones I had seen before and could rewatch quicker, build up a backlog of reviews ready to go before I tackle One Piece. There wasn’t anything to worry about. I had a plan.

“Remember that series Monster you had failed to finish over a decade ago? Yeah, it’s one of the greatest anime, so you have to complete and review it.” Sure, it was only 74 episodes, nothing like the near 750 episodes of One Piece. I could just get that out the way first. Oh, and, of course, I had to review Naruto, at least the classic series, to use as a point of comparison. A mere 136 episodes against One Piece. I could get through Naruto in a month with the Naruto Kai edit. That would add, what, four or five episodes to One Piece? No problem.

What about those sports anime like Ippo? I needed more variety to balance out the action heavy landscape of my anime reviews and sports was a niche in my library. Full Metal Alchemist: Brotherhood, how could I leave such a great on the backlog for so long?

“Have you heard of Korean dramas? What about British panel shows? How long has it been since you watched a Bollywood film? And you haven’t rewatched Top Gear in a while.”

Good point. I needed more than just anime or I would burn out. Plus, the gaming backlog was growing ever larger and needed trimming.

“Have you watched your favourite anime, Legend of the Galactic Heroes, yet? That’s only 110 episodes – much quicker to get through than One Piece.”

Episodes aired: ~800

Alright, that was it. I was never going to get around to One Piece! I knew it. My friends knew it. It had become an inside joke for how many small things I would just “get out of the way” first, after which I assured them I would get to One Piece. In truth, it was only on the backlist because it took no effort to keep it. Saying you are going to do something is less meaningful than a fart in the wind until you commit.

A time came about a year or so ago for me to cull the backlog. I went through the list, briefly checking each title to see if there was any hope or even the slightest interest in getting to them in my lifetime. I axed 50 titles with ease. Except, there was still One Piece. I was about to drop it when I saw a video about one of the characters. I was so beyond the fantasy of ever watching this anime that I didn’t care about spoilers. The video was great, and you know what? It made want to watch it, even if it meant skipping through the early content to reach the arc where it “gets good”.

Sadly, and as no surprise to anyone, I am sure, I still haven’t touched the series. It has surpassed 860 episodes (and growing) and I still have no idea when, or even if, I will watch a single episode of One Piece. See, I have it in my mind that it would be more productive and enjoyable for me to get through other, smaller anime instead. Allow me to illustrate.

Following is my complete backlog of anime. Not all titles will be completed, nor do all have equal weight and priority. Everything on this list has a good chance of getting my eyeballs for a few episodes, at least. And yes, the garbage is there intentionally.

In rough alphabetical order (series flagged red are very long):

  1. Angel Beats
  2. Baby Steps
  3. Beast Slayer Erin
  4. Big Order TV
  5. Cells at Work
  6. Code Geass: Akito the Exiled
  7. Cross Game / Ace of Diamond / Major (try all, finish the best one)
  8. Den-noh Coil
  9. Devilman Crybaby
  10. Drifters
  11. Galaxy Express 999
  12. Garzey’s Wing
  13. Ghost in the Shell 2
  14. Ghost in the Shell Arise
  15. Ghost Stories
  16. Gintama
  17. Glasslip
  18. Grimgar, Ashes and Illusions
  19. Gundam Thunderbolt
  20. Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans
  21. Gundam: The 08th MS Team
  22. Haikyuu Season 3 (only if truly enjoying it)
  23. Harlock / Cosmo Warrior Zero / Endless Orbit SSX / Harlock Saga / Space Pirate / Battleship Yamato (finish one or more, depending on enjoyment)
  24. Hikaru no Go
  25. JoJo sequels (only if enjoying it)
  26. Katanagatari
  27. Kemonozume
  28. King’s Avatar
  29. K-ON
  30. Last 5 Ghibli movies
  31. Legend of the Galactic Heroes Gaidens
  32. Lovely Complex
  33. Macross franchise (finish one or more, depending on enjoyment)
  34. Magi: The Kingdom of Magic
  35. Monogatari sequels (only if enjoying it)
  36. Mononoke
  37. Moribito – Guardian of the Spirit
  38. Mushi-Shi
  39. Naruto Shippuden (finally finish it)
  40. No 6
  41. No Game No Life
  42. One Piece ?
  43. Paranoia Agent
  44. Penguindrum
  45. Pet Girl of Sakurasou
  46. Princess Tutu
  47. Qwaser of Stigmata
  48. Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei
  49. School Days
  50. Skip Beat
  51. Slam Dunk
  52. Slayers sequels (only if enjoying it)
  53. Space Brothers
  54. Striking Daughter
  55. Texhnolyze
  56. Time of Eve
  57. Towards the Terra
  58. Turn A Gundam
  59. Wandering Son
  60. Wotakoi: Love is Hard for Otaku
  61. Xam’d: Lost Memories
  62. Yu Yu Hakusho
  63. Various shorts and films

The following are anime I’ve completed (or nearly), but not published the reviews yet (the holidays were good for tackling the backlog):

In total, that comes to about 80 unique series and movies with possibly more, depending on how much I want to see of the larger franchises. Let’s not forget any upcoming releases and requests from you, dear readers, either.

As of this article’s writing, One Piece is about to air its 869th episode. If we assume each episode is roughly 20 minutes, skipping OP and ED, it would take over 289 hours to finish the series! Of course, I would skip the 107 filler episodes, bringing the total runtime down to 254 hours. In that same time, I could finish between 40 and 50 of the series listed above.

What would I rather do? Experience a large variety or stick to one long series? Naturally, I’d want to do both if possible. So, what’s the solution?

I probably need to turn to the manga first. I can read volumes at a fast pace, allowing me to clear the same story in a fraction of the time, free of filler and stall tactics to lengthen scenes. However, I prefer anime to manga assuming both are of equal quality, though in the case of shounen, especially once the filler starts, the manga is often better. On the other hand, it’s nice to see key fights in motion. Perhaps I could read the majority and just watch the best arcs? That’s my current thinking.

Oh, but before I can read 91 volumes of One Piece, what about the shorter manga on my backlog? (Here we go again…) Noblesse, Lone Wolf and Cub, Vagabond, and 20th Century Boys, to name a few.

Regardless of what route I take, there are plenty of smaller series I want to finish first. My goal is to complete (or drop) every series in the above list that has 50 episodes or less by the end of the 2019.

One final thing to keep in mind is that I have barely rewatched any media (excluding anime I had to rewatch for their reviews) or replayed any games since I started this site, and I’m getting the strong urge to revisit some favourites, which equates to more delays for One Piece. So will it ever be done? I don’t know… I truly don’t know, but I will try.

(What if it turns out I still can’t stand One Piece a few volumes in, dropping it and rendering all of this redundant? Wouldn’t that be hilarious?)

UPDATE! The One Piece journey has started – click here!

A Quick Introduction to Anime Cels

I grew up with hand drawn animation everywhere in my life. I lost count how many times I watched the classic Disney films – Aristocats was past the hundred count, at minimum. Anime films kept the momentum going through my teen years and into adulthood with the likes of Studio Ghibli and Satoshi Kon’s works. The art is feast for the eyes. But when it comes to pure visual indulgence, Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust is my favourite. The gothic style, imaginative world, and fluid animation never fail to leave me in awe.

Some months ago, I acquired several animation cels from Bloodlust and after finally framing my favourites, I thought it a good opportunity to share my passion for cels with you all. So here’s a quick introduction to anime cels. (Every Bloodlust cel in this article is from my collection.)

The Name

A cel derives its name from celluloid, the plastic on which artists painted the layer of a frame. However, celluloid is highly flammable – old film reels would catch fire from the heat of a cinema projector – and was replaced by cellulose acetate.

The Layers

Each element of a scene usually goes on a separate layer – one for the background, one for each character – to avoid the need to redraw the whole scene every frame. It is common in lower budget productions to find a character’s arm, for example, on a separate layer for even more time efficiency. This does result in the character looking a little stiff, however. Some mad men will redraw everything for each frame in key shots to make them as beautiful as possible, which we will see later. It isn’t unheard of to use a physical model in the background either instead of painting it.

Genga vs. Douga

Most cels you buy come with the corresponding production sketch, or ‘douga’ in Japanese, stuck on the back. Artists refer to a douga to paint the exact frame needed – the different colours on the sketch denote the levels of shading and differentiate parts of the subject.

It is easy to confuse douga with ‘genga’, which are the drafts of a cel. A genga, often drawn by the lead animator of the scene, gives an idea of how the subject should look, whereas a douga is the exact blueprint of the final cel. Once an artist reaches the douga stage, the decisions should be final.


The Value

The price of cels vary immensely, even within the same series. Three key factors determine the value in most cases:

Condition: A cel in great condition is obviously worth more.

Source popularity and scarcity: Cels from popular shows are more sought after, naturally, and thus increase in value. However, the number of cels produced for a series is also a factor. Dragon Ball Z, while more popular than Evangelion, has so many more frames available that if a fan wanted one of, say, Goku, they have countless choices. But if you wanted one of an EVA Unit-01, you are limited to 26 episodes and a couple of movies worth of cels. As a rule, the most expensive cels in terms of anime are from Studio Ghibli productions. Not only are their films popular and gorgeous, they only have cels for 90-120 minutes of screen time.

Framing: Once you start comparing cel value within a single production, it all comes down to framing – what looks best on my wall. The crown jewels are what we call ‘hero shots’. A major character will fill the frame like a perfect photo, their face will be visible with eyes open, and have no missing parts for another layer, as mentioned earlier. The value also goes up with the importance of the scene – this is the ‘cool’ factor. A hero shot of Goku from the Saiyan Saga will be valuable. A hero shot of when Goku goes super Saiyan for the first time will be worth ten times more.

The following cel of D is barely worth anything since you can’t make out much detail and the frame looks empty without the background (I included the exact screenshot for comparison). The ‘shadow’ image is the douga pasted on the back.

In Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust, I’d wager the cels for the two screenshots below would be worth the most of the entire film. They look great with or without the background, have perfect framing, and ooze cool.

You can greatly increase the value of a “weak” cel – a character missing an arm and poorly positioned in the frame – by combining it with the other layers. If you can get the background, the missing arm, and the other character she’s talking to, which balances out her position in frame, the value now jumps back up.

Look at my cel below of Bloodlust antagonist Meier Link missing his lower legs and the screenshot of this cel in action. Should I find a frame with the carriage, it would be perfect.

The next cel of interest is the following close up of Meier. It looks odd, doesn’t it? The grey shading on his left cheek isn’t good, no? And what is with that thumbprint on his chin?

Well, look at this cel in the film. That shading on his left cheek is actually a special paint that gives a glow effect under a certain light. It’s magic!

You may be interested to know that artists paint cels from the back, not the front. Painting from the front looks great on canvas to give texture to portraits and the like, but with animation, you need that smooth, even finish provided by the celluloid. It’s hard enough that artists need to keep frames consistent, but they have to paint in reverse as well? That’s nutty.

Here is the above cell of Meier from the back.

Lastly, this is my favourite piece in my collection. You will recognise it as the feature image from my Vampire Anime Guide in the side bar (my cel is a few frames earlier). It was pure fortunate to have stumbled upon this cel so similar to the image I had used.

This is a single cel – no layers. The team redrew the complete frame each time for this shot, allowing for subtle movements in the hair and lighting. That is a lot of work for a second or two of footage. The mad men are dedicated!

My next goal is to acquire some great cels from Legend of the Galactic Heroes, but they aren’t cheap if you want a good one. Reinhard, where are you!?

Patch Notes 3.0

Merry Christmas, happy holidays, and a GREAT New Year to you all, dear readers!

As another year ends, it is time to update past reviews to reflect any changes in my thoughts on certain anime. I think it’s important to look back and learn, as I did with My Former Favourites list versus My Current Favourites list. There aren’t as many changes compared to 2.0. Furthermore, only changes of which I am certain went into effect – nothing pedantic. I hate pedantry.

The majority of adjustments this time relate to my increasing standards or rather, me going too easy in earlier reviews, wishing they were better. Ah My Goddess Season 2 leaps out at me as one such case. I truly wanted it to have what I loved about the first season, but it clearly didn’t – I say as much in the text of the review!

Similarly, a dozen awards, both positive and negative, have been stripped from titles. The awards are to reflect the best or worst of their criterion and some of choices no longer fit. In the cases of Allison & Lillia and Angel Heart (my 7th and 8th reviews), for example, their lead characters are good, but not noteworthy. My standards were so much lower back then.

The full list of changes are below.

Lastly, dear readers, I hope to see you all for the next year and many more beyond.


Patch Notes 3.0

Fixed trailers:

  • Allison & Lillia and Baccano – both of these broke last year as well. In fact, A&L’s trailer was the first I tried to upload myself, but YouTube flagged it within seconds. The studio really doesn’t want anyone to know about this anime. The best I can find is the OP song without animation – can you believe it?

Ah! My Goddess: Fighting Wings – dropped to Low rating, compressed art/music/story sections, and removed the awards, as OVA don’t qualify unless significantly different from the main series. This wouldn’t have been reviewed in the first place, had I realised it was an OVA.

Ah! My Goddess: Flights of Fancydropped to Low rating – should have been this from the start. I was too nice. This is a pointless second season. I didn’t even have to change the body text.

Allison & Lilliaremoved Strong Lead Characters award. Good characters, but not great.

Angel Heart – removed Strong Lead Characters award. Good characters, but not great.

Ano Hana the Movie – dropped to Low rating for much the same reason as Ah! My Goddess season 2 – pointless addition to the series.

Aria the Animationdropped to Low rating. I was being kind with Aria. I mean, it’s so nice to you – how can you be cruel to this series? In truth, it has bothered me for a while that I wasn’t honest with this one. Aria could have done so much more.

Asura Cryin’dropped to Very Low rating. How did I savage it in the review yet score it as a mere Low? Added an Awful Dialogue award. Asura Cryin’ sucks!

Bakemonogatari – removed Fluid Animation award. The animation is good, but there isn’t enough for someone to watch specifically for the animation.

Bartender – removed No Development award. It doesn’t apply to this type of series.

Berserk (2016) – dropped to Low rating. I think I overrated this one because it wasn’t anywhere near as bad as I had been told. True, the CG was that bad, but the story had good elements. Still, more bad than good and thus a Low rating.

Blood Lad – erroneously had a Medium rating – fixed to Low. Not sure how I didn’t notice for so long.

Children Who Chase Lost Voices – dropped to Low rating. I trashed this film in the review and yet it still wasn’t enough. Several times in recent months, I’ve actively told people not to waste their time with Lost Voices. This doesn’t feel like a Shinkai film either.

Clannad – dropped to Very Low rating. Every time I think of this anime, my opinion of it worsens and it just so happens to be the first title I think of in relation to worst anime. The stupidity of the moral lesson, the drama— Better stop there before I repeat the whole review.

Erased – dropped to Medium rating. On rewatch, I noticed the lack of skill in crafting the mystery, giving a feel of half a series. Also removed the Strong Lead Characters award.

Full Metal Panic – removed Fluid Animation award. The animation is good, though certainly not top tier for the industry – increasing standards.

Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex – upgraded to Very High rating. I feel I unfairly limited this one because it wasn’t as good as the Ghost in the Shell movie. No reason they can’t both be excellent.

Hellsing – removed Holy Shit award. Hellsing Ultimate takes the wind out of everything in the original.

Infinite Ryvius – art downgraded to Very Low. There’s no way I wouldn’t have given it the lowest rating after seeing that art. Must have been a mistake.

Karasremoved Riveting Action award. Karas’s action looks great, but it isn’t riveting due to a lack of story or strategy within the action scenes.

Kingsglaive: Final Fantasy XV – dropped to Low rating. This 2-hour commercial didn’t deserve higher. Furthermore, having completed the game, Kingsglaive is largely pointless and should have been in the game itself.

Magical Shopping Arcade Abenobashi – dropped to Very Low rating. This anime is garbage. When I reread the review, I expected the lowest rating at the end based on what I had written. I was surprised to see a generous ‘Low’. I had rated it higher only because I had seen worse.

Michiko & Hatchin – removed Stunning Art award. I believe I just wanted to give it something positive. The art is good, certainly, but I would never point to it as an exemplar of anime.

Mind Game – story downgraded to Medium. The high rating must have been a mistake. I never recall liking it that much. Still a crazy film though.

Place Promised in Our Early Days – dropped to Low rating. Another Shinkai piece I went too easy on. Because I had already thought less of Place Promised than his other works, at the time, I must have settled for the medium tier, when honestly I should have gone further down. Shinkai is a director with a portfolio split down the middle between boring work and great work. Thankfully, he’s on an upward trajectory.

Re:Zero – dropped to Low rating. The more I think of Re:Zero, the worse it becomes. We truly have the stupidest protagonist in anime here and that princess selection episode, wow, spectacular… Humanity is collectively dumber for having seen that.

Sword of the Stranger – removed Stunning Art award. The art’s quality is more from the great animation rather than the overall art.

Tokyo Ghoul – dropped to Low rating. I went too easy on Tokyo Ghoul. A truly disappointing anime.

Zoids New Century Zero – removed Fluid Animation award. Yes, the animation is fluid, but not put to outstanding use, as I would expect of the award.